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By Julian Matthews



Malaysia orders cybercafes to register users

December 22, 1998, Kuala Lumpur -- In a further affront to the rights of the local Internet community, Malaysia has directed all cybercafes to register their customers or have their permits revoked.

The directive was issued on Dec 3 to all State governments to make it mandatory for cybercafes to maintain a record book to take down personal details such as the name, identity card number and home address of customers.

Housing and Local Government Minister Ting Chew Peh said the directive was effective immediately and would be an additional condition included in permits issued nationwide.

"Of late, there have been numerous cases of cybercafes being abused by unscrupulous people to spread malicious lies about the country via the Internet. We want to exercise tighter control and supervision over the activities in cybercafes, which is a new phenomenon in the country," he said.

He said the move was also in response to a request from the Home Ministry, which he said had difficulties locating culprits who spread false information of the country.

The Home Ministry is headed by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and governs the police force.

Ting said with the new condition, the police and local authorities could monitor the people frequenting cybercafes and track down any misuse.

He added that cybercafe operators must produce the record books on request by police and local authorities and random checks would be carried out to ensure compliance. "Cybercafes that fail to comply will have their licences revoked," he said.

The move is a series by the Malaysian government in recent times that appears in conflict with its guarantee of freedom of information on the Internet as promised under its Multimedia Super Corridor project.

In August, the government invoked the harsh the Internal Security Act (ISA), which provides for detention without trial for two years, arresting four people for allegedly spreading rumors of riots in the capital city via e-mail. The rumors prompted city-dwellers into panic-buying of groceries and spooked foreign exchange trading.

The government has also stated it was keeping tabs on websites supporting a fledgling reform movement started by sacked deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Thousands of have turned to the Internet to source the latest foreign news reports on the Mahathir-Anwar furore.

Over 50 websites and various newsgroups and mailing lists have sprouted up mostly in favor of Anwar following his arrest on sexual misconduct and corruption charges in September.

Industry analyst A. Shukor Rahman described the move to monitor cybercafes as unfair to the rights of operators and users and will victimise them.

"Cybercafes are struggling to stay open and the move will only turn away a good number of patrons. Imposing too strict controls will also create new demand for underground outlets," he said.

Shukor, whose company publishes local IT pullout Computimes, said it was ironic that a country that aims to promote greater use of the Internet has rules incongruent with this objective.

"It seems as if some agencies within the government want to promote access while others are introducing mechanisms to deter it," he said.

Shukor said although the government's fears of malicious rumor-mongering may be legitimate, cybercafes were not the only place to do so. "Any user be they at home or office has equal opportunity to do so. What about standalone Internet kiosks? Does one have to give similar detailed personal data now when purchasing prepaid cards?"

(Published in AsiaBizTech, Dec 29,1998)

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